Iceland boss blames councils over 'poor meat quality'


Iceland chief executive Malcolm Walker says he would not eat "value" branded meat from supermarkets.

Local councils are to blame for driving down food quality with cheap food contracts for schools and hospitals, the boss of Iceland has said.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Malcolm Walker said the "problem really lies" with councils buying food from the poorly supplied catering industry.

Retailers should not be blamed for the horsemeat crisis, Mr Walker added.

The Local Government Association said councils were not to blame for what had been "a major supply chain failure".

Mr Walker's comments followed a call on Sunday from the boss of Waitrose for tighter meat testing controls.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is to meet representatives from Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Institute of Grocery Distribution on Monday afternoon.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokeswoman said the meeting would allow Mr Paterson to get an update on testing results and find out more about what businesses are doing to restore consumer confidence.

'Cheap food'

Iceland was among UK retailers, including Tesco, Asda, Lidl and Aldi, which withdrew products found to test positive for horse DNA.

After Iceland removed a line of quarter-pounder beefburgers last month, the north Wales-based firm said it "would be working closely with its suppliers" to ensure its products met "high standards of quality and integrity".

Merrick Cockell, chairman of the LGA, rejected Mr Walker's claims

Mr Walker told the BBC: "British supermarkets have got a fantastic reputation for food safety, they go to enormous lengths to protect their brand."

He insisted supermarkets were already extremely transparent about food quality and testing.

"If we're going to blame somebody let's start with local authorities, because there's a whole side to this industry which is invisible - that's the catering industry. Schools, hospitals - it's massive business for cheap food and local authorities award contracts based purely on one thing - price," he said.

He added: "Iceland has never sold economy products - we do not sell cheap food... we know where all our food comes from, we follow the supply chain right the way through and it's very short."

Supermarkets were not the real culprits in "driving down food quality", he said.

"Dodgy cutting houses and backstreet manufacturers have been supplying products to the catering industry and a lot of that is bought by local authorities for schools and hospitals - that's where the problem really lies," he added.

Merrick Cockell, chairman of the LGA, said the relationship between a council and a caterer was the same as that between a retailer and a consumer.

Start Quote

With monitoring and control tighter than ever before, quality of food served in schools has risen, not fallen”

End Quote Local Authorities Caterers Association

"We have a contract with that retailer to provide us with what it says on the wrapper and that is exactly the same with local government providing contracts for school meals or, indeed, the NHS with hospitals.

"Clearly in some cases, relatively few cases, that has not been happening and actually for the boss of Iceland to appear and make that suggestion... well I hope he knows more about what's actually going on in retailing than he clearly does in contracting and local government."

A Local Authorities Caterers Association spokeswoman said it was "disappointed" with Mr Walker's remarks.

"Local authorities across the country have been totally supportive of driving food standards up in schools over the last few years," she told BBC News.

She insisted providers adhered to stringent "procurement policies and procedures for sourcing and ensuring quality control of food products for school menus".

"With monitoring and control tighter than ever before, quality of food served in schools has risen, not fallen," she added.

'Cheap commodity'

Waitrose also withdrew a number of products when the horsemeat scandal came to light.

Although none tested positive for horse DNA, some own-brand meatballs were found to contain traces of pork.

Managing director Mark Price said the John Lewis-owned firm would set up its own freezing plant to prevent cross-contamination.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Price urged the food industry to apply "renewed rigour" to their testing regimes.

He said: "If something good comes of the current scandal, I hope it is the opening up of a debate around the true economics of food.

"The simple fact is that food cannot be seen as a cheap commodity when so many factors are working against that premise, including population growth."

Meanwhile, former Food Standards Agency manager John Young told the Sunday Times he had alerted the government in 2011 to the "debacle" of horse passports, which were supposed to stop the painkiller bute entering the food chain, but was ignored.

A Defra spokesperson responded that Mr Paterson had asked the FSA's chief executive and Defra officials to look into the allegations, insisting it was "clear Defra and the FSA have taken action on the issue... when information has been passed to us".

"In January 2012, Defra and the FSA increased checks on horse passports, meaning every horse was checked twice, and from last week no horse can enter the food chain until it is confirmed to be free of bute," they said.

The FSA said it had submitted a "full file" on its horsemeat investigation to Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, with information being analysed in 35 countries in Europe and elsewhere.

UK food prices change from 1980-2012

More on This Story

Horsemeat scandal

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I understand this meat is only mislabelled and not in general dangerous. Why don't we just stick a label over the "beef" saying it's "Beef/horse" and sell it off cheaply rather than destroy it; or send it to somewhere where they are crying out for cheap food - but do not destro it just to salve our wounded pride!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Thats it blame any one else.
    The FSA what do they actually do, endless meetings and implementing useless EU law I guess.
    If this is so widespread how on earth did this not get picked up before
    maybe the the government is misdirecting the NHS FSA the other FSA and all the quangos all they are interested in is corperate profit for their chums.
    please do not vote for any of the main parties .

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The fact is that for many years, food producers have been squeezed hard by big retailers. Remember the milk pricing row in 2012? This sort of outcome is a reflection of that squeeze. We pay too much for plastic tat we don't need and not enough to those who produce our food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    If Schools and Hospitals have been victim of this horsemeat scandal image the disgusting standards of food they have been getting away with suppling in our prisons. But hey who cares about them right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    This chap is seriously confused on so many levels! It seems almost cruel to interview him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I have been "dining out" on reduced beef pies since this all started.

    Seems people are buying less, so the "sell by date" surplus sales are great.

    Happy to jump onto this gravy train..............

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I'm tired of all this bickering on this HYS it's as if you're all trying to flog a dead horse, ... oh hang on ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The fraud is at every level. It starts with the insane CAP subsidy process. The concept that ruddy-faced, hardworking farmers are getting these subsidies is clearly a fabricated fantasy, only designed to fool the public. The vast bulk of the money goes to massive corporations - who use the funds to pay dividends to their shareholders! This is not the way MP's or EU has ever described the process!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Surely now we can use this as a reason to stop importing and exporting meat. We export high quality meat and buy in sub standard. Stopping the export of meat would mean we could innoculate cows from MCD thus reducing the amount of animal we slaughter needlessly, sheep would n't have to endure hundreds of miles of travelling just to be killed.... And how about banning Halal..Cruel and worthless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Iceland Boss... As Mandy Rice-Davies once said...... "Well he would, wouldn't he?"

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Fuzzy, we had an expression 40 yeats a go " Hark at the pot calling the kettle black" - Mr Walker you need to get a grip on the real world

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    everyone blaming each other, when it all comes down to a simple thing called greed. as for the well to do like the female on sky news the other night on press review. she basically said well if you want cheap you will get cheap. NO if you buy beef regardless of its price it should be beef, and will this be a new excuse to raise the price of cheap food so the poor will go hungry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    First the label on the product was false i do not care about the supply chain the company with the name on the tin must be make to pay and i mean million for the wrong label.
    Second if the customer is not prepare to pay the the wright price it deserve to get rubbish is simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    "Retailers should not be blamed for the horsemeat crisis, Mr Walker added."

    If the Manufacturers aren't responsible for what goes into their products then who is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    So councils and other public sector organisations are berated for being inefficient and bureaucratic, yet also slated for being too efficient and getting better value for the tax payer. Typical big business, everybody's fault but their own!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    what a load of rubbish. The people to blame are the people who did it, not anyone else.

    If a price bottom is hit, then thats the price, you dont go cheaper and substitue the product.

    hes implying that as long a the price is cheap enough they can add whatever they like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Saw the Iceland chairman being interviewed last night, he was pretty arrogant and showed a complete lack of consumer sympathy over this issue, kept calling it a contamination problem (sorry someone was selling 100% horsemeat burgers). He reminded me of a dodgy car dealer, this is a lack of trust in labels and contents, vote with your feet I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    surely pies,pasties sausages and the like have always contained lips nostrils eye-balls etc.but as soon as someone says horse,all hell breaks loose.......strange.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    If a council contract is not profitable, don't bloody bid on it!


Page 58 of 63


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.